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Finally Unveiling ‘Them’

OK, buckle up. This is going to be a bumpy ride of apparent contradictions and paradoxes – and maybe even some smoke and mirrors – but in the end (I hope) this might be the most important thing you’ll read today.

First things first, I have always had a low tolerance for people whose idea of activism is chucking abuse at agencies like governments, banks and corporations – blaming them for all the ills in the world. I have come under much flak for this attitude, and, not surprisingly, it seems that those who engage in this kind of ‘blame-hurling’ are ready to hurl their blame at pretty much anyone who appears to be asking for it.

So, why do I have a low threshold for seemingly legitimate blame-hurling?

Well, for me, the logic is overwhelming, and it breaks down something like this:

1. Supposing there is no ‘them’, no conspiracy – no hidden agenda to enslave or dumb down humanity whatsoever. Imagine it’s just us – a bunch of hapless apes behaving semi-erratically, doing stupid things and generally making a mess of everything?

Well, if this is the case, then I’m sure you would agree that to fix this, we would need to urgently upgrade our thinking, priorities, social methods, and start becoming more responsible for ourselves, each other and planet, right?

2. But now supposing there is a ‘them’ – a malevolent group of shady figures who are trying to squeeze every last drop of blood, profit, impose global dominion over us – or maybe even wipe us out entirely? Imagine it’s every conspiracy theorist’s most dire prediction?

Well, if this is the case, then I’m sure you would agree that to fix this, we would need to urgently upgrade our thinking, priorities, social methods, and start becoming more responsible for ourselves, each other and planet, right?

[Please tell me you saw what I did there]

So you see, while the problems may be different in nature, the solution is the same: change how we operate, assert our sovereignty, take away our vulnerable reliance on outside agencies and create an enlightened, connected society that would never allow itself to be manipulated.

For the record, I’m neither naïve nor paranoid enough to believe in either extreme here. I’m pretty sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There’s a lot of random, badly-incentivised stuff going on that does sometimes look like conspiracy but clearly isn’t, and there’s a whole lot of stuff that unquestionably is. (Julian Assange’s filmed arrest in London just weeks after an IMF bailout for Ecuador springs easily to mind)

The point is that from an activist’s point of view, it shouldn’t matter anyway. Regardless of cause, the work we need to do to fix it is the same. Any malevolent ‘them’ will soon vanish when their preferred tools of exploitation – money, nations, religion – no longer hold any value in an enlightened society.

Now here’s where it gets messy.

Watching Extinction Rebellion’s inexorable rise, I quickly found myself pshawwing at what I saw as their wishy-washy prescribed remedy for climate change: blame it all on Government. How original, I thought. Another misdirected ducking of responsibility typical of every major protest group. (I have always maintained and continue to maintain that change is in our hands – all we have to is organise it)

But then things got weird when I happened upon this series of articles, which painted quite a different picture of Extinction Rebellion. In a nutshell, it appears that some leading lights in that organisation (and others) have some rather questionable ties to big business and the ‘establishment’ and seem to perennially attach themselves to similar kinds of protest that are always very well funded and organised – and usually ineffective.

A coincidence, or a conspiracy? Who knows, but it opens up some interesting possibilities which made me think.

Imagine for example ‘they’ do exist. Imagine ‘they’ are pulling the strings of organised protest and manufacturing dissent – even against themselves. Why would they do that?

Well, when you think about it, there are potentially lots of good reasons why:

  1. A manufactured, controlled protest is far more preferable than a random, organic one. It gives people a vent for their anger at injustice so they can let off steam safely – without necessarily changing anything, of course.

  2. They can create misdirection. ie. Push the popular blame onto someone else.

  3. They can influence the activist agenda.

  4. They can ‘set the tone’ for how they think civilised protest should play out.

  5. (and this is the one that interests me) They can further disempower people by breeding hatred for a phantom ‘them’ who either don’t exist or who will never be accountable anyway.

See, the funny thing about living in a world with a Schrödinger-style ‘them’ (who may or may not exist) is that no matter what you think about them, you’ll never reach them. Whether they are just spooks in our collective imagination, or some shapeshifting, undefinable ‘thing’, or just simply persons untouchable by law, they are just a shadow – always out of reach.

And that state of affairs would suit them very well (assuming they exist or course).

So, [deep breath] if ‘they’ exist and are indeed manufacturing protest against ‘themselves’ in order to disempower people by reinforcing victim mentality towards something that ‘they’ know is untouchable anyway, then that’s quite an impressive strategy. Real protest with zero results guaranteed.

But from an activist’s point of view, or for anyone who seriously wants to change the world, I’m afraid that all strategies that feature any version of ‘them’ still fail under my previous logic.

In short, there is either no ‘them’, just us, or there is a ‘them’ to whom we confer our power and sovereignty. Either way, it’s us. Change is in our hands alone. Always was. We just don’t think it is.

No matter how you imagine ‘them’, blame ‘them’, engage or even validate the existence of ‘them’, the only possible remedial action is the same: Organise ourselves differently, become self-responsible and vanquish this Scooby Doo spook from our culture forever.

Published in Blog


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